French judge dismisses the claims of French families association against SecondLife

23 October 2007

Jeanne Méhaud

On 2 July 2007, a summary judge of the Paris first instance tribunal rejected the claim of two families associations against Linden Research, the operators of the online virtual world, SecondLife, and various web access providers. The judge found that the bailiff affidavit upon which the claim was grounded lacked probative value and that the claimant provided no proof of any obviously illicit disorder or any impending damage to minors.

The claimants alleged that the SecondLife website violates French law in a number of ways, such as the fact that violent, pornographic or even paedophilic messages may be seen by minors and that the virtual world contains advertising and propaganda in favour of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and online gambling. The families associations based their claim on two bailiff affidavits seeking an interim ruling that would order Linden Research, both as publisher and hoster (or the web access providers if Linden Research failed to appear) to effectively prevent minors accessing the website on penalty payment of 5,000 EUR per day of delay. The families associations claimed 20,000 EUR in lieu of damages.

First, the summary judge ruled that French law was applicable to the case, as the content of SecondLife is aimed at an international public and is widely used in France. The judge also noted that an “official guide in French language” drafted by employees of Linden Research was available to the public and considered that the fact that the only language for information relating to the use of the website is English had no consequence on the applicability of French law.

Second, the summary judge ruled that one of the bailiff affidavits lacked probative value not only for technical aspects but also for breach of ethical rules such as neutrality and objectivity. The affidavit indeed failed to indicate which navigator had been used and whether the cache memory had been dumped or not. Moreover, the date and hour of the computer clock were not consistent with that of the affidavit, which also failed to indicate the similarity of the page displayed and the page online at the time and hour of the affidavit. As for the way the affidavit was established, the summary judge considered that the bailiff failed to fully comply with his duty to remain neutral, as the user account corresponding to the avatar created the purposes of the affidavit could have been created prior to the affidavit. The judge also decided that the bailiff had lost control of the investigation, as he entrusted his principle with the handling of the avatar on the personal computer of the latter, without having taken any prior technical precautions.

Eventually, regarding the alleged disorder and the damages claimed by the families associations, the summary judge ruled that as a result of the lack of probative value of the affidavit, he was not in a position to assert with certainty that Linden Research was not only a technical service provider in respect of the contents of SecondLife spaces. The judge considered that the claim was supported by no actual complaint or other element that would prove the existence of any obviously illicit disorder or impending damage to minors. The claimants were jointly ordered to pay 1,500 EUR to Linden Research as well as a total of 5,600 EUR to the various access providers for the costs of the proceedings.